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Succeeding Through Failure

By Dr. Margaret Paul
October 14, 2013

Are you stuck in your life, fearing that you will fail if you go for what you really want? You CAN get unstuck!

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. --Michael Jordan, Former Professional Basketball Player and Entrepreneur

How did failure get such a bad name? When did it become something to avoid rather than something to learn from? If you fear failure, did this come mostly from your parents or other caregivers, or mostly from your school experience, or both?

I guess I was lucky that my parents didn't care how I did in school. I don't ever remember the word 'failure' being used as I was growing up. It wasn't a concept that I even thought about. My view was that I would keep trying to do something until I became good at it.

I remember that I wanted to get good at free throws. We had a basketball hoop in our back yard; I would spend hours practicing free throws and I finally got really good at it. I can't remember how many I could do in a row, but it was a lot. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't succeed at getting good at it - with enough practice. I did this with many things in my life, and I was able to get good at many things. It didn't matter to me how long it took – what mattered was that each time I 'failed', I learned. I didn't even see it as failure when I missed a shot – it was just a learning experience.

Looking back, this was such a blessing for me. When I read one of my favorite books, "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, I realized what a blessing this part of my childhood really is. People who fear failure have what she calls a 'fixed mindset.' This means that they are so afraid of failure that they never even make the effort to try. If you are stuck in your life, you might be stuck in a fixed mindset, being too afraid to make the effort required to succeed, because you have such a judgment on failure. You might be operating from a belief system that if you can't do something well right away, people will judge you as stupid. This fear may be keeping you stuck.

People who don’t worry about failure have what Dr. Dweck calls a 'growth mindset.' This means that they receive great joy in making effort toward what they want and don't even think about the outcome.

This has been my experience. I don't think much about the outcome, and I receive great joy in the effort. I've found, like Michael Jordan, that I've succeeded due to learning from my many failures, but I actually never even saw them as failures. They were just learning experiences.

If you are stuck in your life, I encourage you to let go of focusing on the outcome and instead focus on the joy of making effort. When you focus on the effort, then you can receive great joy in the process of learning something.

I remember when I was about eight years old and someone gave me a gift of a pogo stick. I decided I wanted to get really good at it, and I had so much fun practicing it over and over. I have no idea how long it took me to get good at it because time wasn't important to me, but eventually I could ride that pogo stick forever without falling. But I had to be willing to fall over and over to reach that goal.

If you are willing to fall or 'fail' over and over, you will eventually get where you want to go!


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